An investor’s affair, no art fair this!

The 11th edition of the India Art Fair with nearly 142 exhibitors, concluded this week. It was a fiasco, minus those who benefited by its commercial approach

An investor’s affair, no art fair this!

Rana Siddiqui Zaman

The 11th edition of the India Art Fair with nearly 142 exhibitors, concluded this week. It was a fiasco, minus those who benefited by its commercial approach. Many factors contributed to making it a dull, boring, depressing and "non-fizzy" affair, as most visitors put it.

Less number of art galleries and even lesser international art galleries, utter mismanagement, no respect for visitors, unprofessional and rude media handlers, a planned but drab layout and design, extremely corporatist and intimidating looks, expensive tickets even for students, car parking issues and no guides marred the event and spoiled its long-standing image.

An angry Soumen Bhowmick, emerging artist and author of "Manus", a book of his drawings, found empty chairs in the fair’s “boring sessions”. He rues, "India Art Fair seems to be much aligned to a set school of thought; the school of bourgeois art or the art to feed the niche breed of deep pockets. The galleries dictate the creative output from helpless artists. Madness has been sacrificed for schooled line of curated ideas.”

He feels that except for a few sudden flares of ingenuity there was nothing good about it. For instance, Kiran Nadar's Museums’ display of works were refreshing. Arario art gallery had works by Nalini Malani, LN Tallur and Kim Taeho, they were exceptional, soulful and engaging. “The art fair seemed to be narrowing its creative circumference, with each passing year. It should be more welcoming to the general public than enclosing itself to a very narrow fan following. This art fair looked like art is in severe depression," he adds.

Sanjay Das, an art photographer, discovered, “This year a lot of galleries were showing photography, but galleries which concentrate on serious photography were not a part of the fair. And the number is gradually going down every year."

Gallerist Monika Jain found the booth and the entire space planned and designed to appear more spacious and large, moaning, "hardly any international collectors" and believing it was deliberate as Indian galleries exhibit abroad. "But all galleries do not or cannot afford to exhibit abroad. Even if they do, they tend to take established artists thus incoming promising artists do not access to the international market."

A couple from England, requesting anonymity, said, "We were never able to complete the fulfilling art fair earlier. This time it was such a short trip. It has come down in size but the prices of the tickets have risen. Indian contemporary art works were much better, but very expensive. Even if we want to buy, we can’t. It was like a corporate/business affair for only people in the business of art and not art lovers.”

Two art students from Ambedkar University Mumne Moyong and Nikita Taying, felt disappointed, "It was repetitive. We saw same old works that we saw three years ago, same concepts, same content."

An investor’s affair, no art fair this!
Soumen Bhowmick (L)

With tickets costing ₹350 per head, it was certainly not what they had bargained for.

Earlier, closer to the stalls, mammoth sculptures, intriguing installations and some spectacularly lit up works of arts outside would transport the viewers to the world of art. They would be set. I have witnessed mammoth heads by Ravinder Reddy, Chintan's huge ‘child’ sculptures and bright intriguing gate installations create a feel of being in an art fair from the distance.

As artist Shampa Sircar recalls, “I remember (artist) Veer Munshi had replicated his home (Jammu and Kashmir) outside IAF halls as a beautiful installation. We could go inside and actually interact with his artistic pursuits. This time a discounted cafe covered up the front.”

Despite finding it organised, Sircar says that the space was huge because there were less stalls. Foreign galleries brought substandard works, while Indian contemporary art works were much better. Overpowering presence of masters made it look like a safe game playing field.

Echoed, artist and sculptor Rajesh Baderia, “The fair lacked international art galleries, one except from Korea, Japan, London and Israel. It was full of masters, most gallerists displayed masters with just a couple of new artists, to play safe. With due respect, I am tired of watching the same masters. For how long will I keep on seeing the same five masters? Are they the only one representing the whole of India? Art fair does not want to show five more new Rajesh Badererias but play safe by showing five old masters to make up for expensive stalls and some profits. India is still not able to come out of the mentality of doing an art fair for artistic reasons but commerce. It does not want to show new artists, it just wants to mint money and it mints money by selling masters only. Established galleries are also showing same mid-rank artists who sell over and over again, their similar works you see at the Delhi airport and you see similar works at the fair. Why?"

This was not enough. The biggest mismanagement was the car parking. “It wasted my one-and-a-half hours. It also led to a huge traffic jam at all its gates due to stationed vehicles, also adding to major pollution level. I had a major fight because of that. It spoiled my mood,” Rajesh said infuriatingly, echoed by Shampa and Sanjay Das.

With galleries allegedly giving passes as expensive as ₹9000 for all the days to their clients, with students fee at ₹350, ₹700 to 1700 for one and all day’s tickets respectively, and arrogant event and press managers, IAF drew a lot of criticism.

REJOINDER

We have received a rejoinder from Ms. Jagdip Jagpal, Fair Director of India Art Fair, on two reports written by Rana Siddiqui Zaman on the fair published on this website on 9 and 10 February 2019. She makes the following points:

  • The writer did not attend India Art Fair 2019. She arrived on the after the fair had closed on the last day and was refused entry.
  • The writer did not have any interaction whatsoever with the India Art Fair Press and Media Managers.
  • The writer did not register for press accreditation despite the India Art Fair website clearly stating that it was required and having 11 months to do so, whereas other National Herald reporters did register.
  • The 9 February 2019 article states there are 142 exhibitors, this is factually incorrect: there were 75 exhibitors.
  • The 9 February 2019 article also states there are less international art galleries. For 2019, there were 15 international exhibitors in the main area of the fair and one Forum Project. Further, it has been heavily publicised and in the public domain that the India Art Fair has taken a strategic decision to support the Indian gallery system by limiting the number of international galleries to 30 percent of the floorspace in the main area of the fair and 70 percent held for Indian galleries.
  • In the 10 February article, there is another factually incorrect statement: “For the last two years, the fair has been witnessing mediocrity in several stalls. A stall by Art Alive for instance had displayed wooden horses (like that proverbial Trojan Horse) painted by artists and films stars like Salman Khan and Aamir Khan.” India Art Fair 2017, 2018 and 2019 did not show this work which actually featured elephants. It was shown in the 2016 edition which predates the current team.
  • In the 10 February article, gallerist Monica Jain quoted responds: “As I found this year’s Art Fair to be near perfect, that's what I wrote and elaborated on. I replied that it was one of a kind of this scale and stature in India. This being our second time here we have hugely benefited from it in terms of credibility, noticeability and business. I was then specifically asked and egged on to say if there was any teeny weeny tweaking that could make this near perfect event into a perfect one. Seems like this one little part has been taken out of context and blown out of proportion.”

Our critic Rana Siddiqui Zaman replies:

  • There were 44 international galleries in the year 2012, 44 again in 2013, 32 in the year 2014 and 25 in 2015. And the point that was made was that there has been a consistent decline over the years.
  • The reports extensively quoted the views of different artists. They were not personal opinion of the writer. Mediocrity is a matter.

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Published: 9 Feb 2019, 9:00 PM